Deputy Police Commissioner in charge of Operations, Jack Ewatski, has come out in strong defence of the controversial light aircraft contracted by the Police Service and is assuring the country that the plane will not be used to conduct covert activities. And whether the decision to contract the plane could negatively affect his performance appraisal, Ewatski said that was up to the Police Service Commission to decide. In an interview at his office at Police Administration Building, Port-of-Spain, yesterday, Ewatski, when asked if he believed he was being unfairly attacked, said: "I recognise the fact that some people would form an opinion based on a very limited amount of information. "I don't operate that way," he said. "If I form an opinion, it is an informed opinion...it is based on fact-not based on rumour, innuendo or assumption.
"I can't prevent other people from forming an opinion based on assumptions, rumours or innuendoes." Maintaining that the Police Service was not on a mission to engage in "covert surveillance" of the citizens of the country, Ewatski said: "This is not about covert surveillance...This is about supporting our ground operations, so we are not using those assets to spy and to do anything in a covert manner, quite the contrary.
"This is where this misunderstanding is, and everytime I hear it being referred to as surveillance or spying, that isn't the case," he said. He added that he would go all out to correct this misconception and inform the general public about the operations of the Police Service. Ewatski said the plane would be very visible and the work it would conduct would be "readily accountable" to the Government and the National Security Ministry. "We want people to know that we have the ability and the capability of being able to support our ground operations with air operations...to have that situational awareness from the air is a very effective tool to support our ground operations," he added.
He said the two helicopters, formerly under the charge of the Special Anti-Crime Unit of T&T, and now in the hands of the Police Service, had also played an instrumental role in police operations. "We arrested close to 180 people last year, in operations that our air support unit was involved in-those type of operations where they supported our ground operations looking for individuals who were either leaving the scene of a crime or at the scene of a crime, as a result of our ability to see things from the air much clearer and much better than from on the ground," Ewatski said. "Law enforcement aviation is similar to having a marked patrol vehicle on the ground," he said. "The aircraft is used, whether it be a helicopter or a fixed-wing aircraft, as another patrol and response resource. "It could get to scenes much quicker than on the ground and it certainly has a whole different perspective from the air than on the ground." And the light fixed-wing aircraft, he asserted, had not been used by the Police Service as part of its Air Support Unit.
"Contrary to what people are saying, the plane wasn't here last summer...the plane only came into the country in January of this year," Ewatski said. "We are right now in a training phase of our officers to use this light fixed-wing aircraft. "The plane has not been deployed as part of our Air Support Unit at this point in time."
Questioned when the aircraft was expected to be fully functional, Ewatski could not give a specific time period, only adding that operations would commence "soon." Ewatski and Police Commissioner Dwayne Gibbs have been at the centre of harsh criticism, including by National Security Minister John Sandy who accused the two of failing to inform the ministry about the $902,772 contract to a Tacarigua firm for 720 hours of use of the Zenith aircraft for a three-month evaluation. Ewatski said he had already submitted a full report to Sandy and had "discussions" with him. Questioned on whether he believed it was wrong not to inform the minister before the contract was awarded, he said: "I have submitted a report to the minister and I have had conversations with the minister on this issue."
The Police Service Commission, which was also given a copy of the report, is expected to make a decision on the matter. Regarding whether the plane issue had eroded his image as a senior officer and could ultimately affect his performance appraisal to be conducted by the commission, Ewatski said: "That would be up for the commission to decide, based on facts, not based on assumption, not based on rumours or innuendoes, but based on facts. "I have been in this business long enough to know that in a position of leadership, especially in a police organisation, that you are constantly under scrutiny and I have faced scrutiny in the past and I will continue to face that scrutiny until I am no longer involved in law enforcement," he said.